Aviation clean up




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Air Services Australia (ASA), the government body responsible for managing air traffic, is helping the aviation industry reduce its ecological footprint with the new Air Traffic Operations and Management Simulator (ATOMS).

ATOMS, developed at the Canberra campus of the University of New South Wales, Australia, is the first aviation simulator that can be used to model the impact of changes in flight procedures on carbon emissions and noise pollution.

According to ATOMS, changes to flight procedures on a Sydney to Melbourne 747 flight could save up to 500kg of fuel per trip.

With more than 60 planes departing Sydney Airport for Melbourne each day, that could add up to millions of kilograms of fuel a year - and that's just on one route.

ASA spokesperson Udo Bucher said that, while ATOMS doesn't directly cut fuel use or noise itself, it does allow other technologies and procedures to be analysed, optimised and compared.

That will help the regulators to decide which ones would be most effective in greening the aviation industry.

ASA is already introducing continuous descent arrivals, a procedure where the plane effectively glides in to land, reducing both fuel use and noise, and ATOMS is being used to fine-tune the procedure.


Several other air traffic management innovations are also being investigated.

Some, such as allowing flexible flight paths at high altitudes so that pilots can take advantage of jet streams, could cut fuel use and carbon emissions.

Others, like precision navigation systems that keep planes from accidentally over-flying residential areas, cut down noise pollution for people living near flight paths.

ASA doesn't know yet which of the new tools might be taken up. "It is too early to estimate the extent of savings," Bucher said.

That's where ATOMS comes in: it can model the procedures and show which ones would be most effective at reducing emissions or noise. Then the most promising techniques can be tested in real life.

ATOMS may also help the aviation industry prepare for the introduction of the emissions trading scheme.

Currently, the aviation industry is responsible for about two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

"We are presently determining an aviation emissions baseline [with ATOMS], which can then be used in the reduction of greenhouse gases and fuel burn, by optimising the introduction of new [air traffic management] procedures," Bucher said.

The results will be available in March next year, and will provide a starting point for airlines trying to reduce their emissions ahead of the start of the emissions trading scheme in 2010.